The Story of Druidism In comprising this paper, I had to read several books and text just to get a sense of who the Druids were and where they came from. This was not an easy task because there is so much that is not known. They did not keep records; they were a non-literate tribe and orally taught their religion to their disciples. Depending on the author and his/her belief, you get a different opinion.
Hence, because of this, I have identified the history, legend and folklore of the Druids into two groups; the Classical belief and the Romantic belief. The Classical being the more reality based understanding of the Druids and the Romantic being the romanticized understanding of the Druids. However, before we find out about who they were, I wanted to give an overview of where they came from and their timeline.
AN OVERVIEW It is thought that the Druids first surfaced around the third century B.C.
This is not known for sure but is speculated from what little information that we have on them from other scholars and chroniclers. "Our most informative sources "ÃÂ Strabo, Diodorus Siculua and Julius Caesar- which were all writing in the mid or late first century BC. However, we can push the literary evidence for Druidism back somewhat further, inasmuch as all these historians undoubtedly drew on a single earlier source, Posidonius, a Greek philosopher from Syria, who flourished around the first century BC. But the earliest literature to mention Druids may have been the work of Timaeus, a Greek historian who lived in the mid-Fourth to mid-third century BC, and who was used as an authority by many later chroniclers, including Diodorus."ÃÂ (Green, pg 14). Now there was actually other accounts that trace Druidism back even earlier in history "ÃÂ back as early as sixth or fifth century BC. However, the Druids themselves were not mentioned but they were clearly identified with. "Hecataeus of Miletus spoke of them, followed by the great fifth-century historian Herodotus. Although these early writers did not mention the Druids specifically, they were clearly well established by at least the second century BC in order for their brotherhood to have attained such prominence by the time Caesar and his peers encountered them."ÃÂ (Green, pg 14).
There is some historical evidence that Druids may have originated in Britain. However, there is also evidence of them in Ireland and Gaul as well. "Caesar tells us that Druidism first started in Britain, and the Druids of Gaul used to go to Britain to visit famous schools and sanctuaries. "ÃÂ (DRUIDS, pg 1) So who were the Druids? Depending whether you believe the classical version or the romantic version, Druids were considered many things. They were the philosophers/theologians, the teachers/educators, the priest, the judges/lawyers, the astronomers and seers into the future, and they were the informants to the King and settled disputes and took part in public and private sacrifices. They had powers to cast spells, could read dreams and had healing powers. It is also alleged that they were in training for over 20 years before they were rightfully claimed a Druid.
The Celtic word derouyd (from de or di, God, and rhoud or rhouid, speaking) signifies "ÃÂInterpreter of the gods, or one who speaks from the gods. According to others the word druid comes from the old Irish word drui, meaning knowing and wydd meaning mistletoe, or the Greek word drus for oak-tree. (Bonwick, page 46 and Piggott, page 106). The Druids were thought to be priest or philosophers that worshiped, not in temples, but in the depths of the forest. They also thought to practice human sacrifice and received "messages"ÃÂ from the gods.
According to Julius Caesar, the Druids were held very high in society. They were held as high as the noblemen. "Caesar and his contemporaries portray the Druids as enjoying extremely high status within Gallic society, of a rank akin to the equites (knights), who were the highest nobility below the tribal chief magistrate or king."ÃÂ (Green, pg 10) "ÃÂ Throughout Gaul there are two classes of men of some dignity and importance"ÃÂ¦.One of the two classes is that of the Druids, the other that of the Knights.' (Caesar, Gallic War VI, 13-14) In some ways, it can be said that the Druids had even more power than that of the king. According to Professor David Greene, the Druids "ÃÂcould travel freely throughout tribes. The literary class"ÃÂ¦ by virtue of its sacred office, could pass freely through the iron curtain which separated the tribes from one another.' (Piggott, pg 50) THE CLASSICAL VIEW Going back to who the Druids were, again, depending on who the information is coming from, you are going to get different recollections. Each scholar had their own opinion regarding the Druids. "What is very striking is the difference between the comments made by writers of the first century BC and those of the first century AD. Caesar, Strabo and Diodorus project a positive, active image of the Druids engaged in official capacities as judges, teachers and presiders over ritual matters, including sacrifice. But if we examine the testimony of Tacitus, Lucan, Pliny and Pomponius Mela, all of whom wrote in the first century AD, we find new notes creeping in: the association of Druids with secret, hidden places such as forests, and more pejorative, emotive descriptions of savage rites and practicing magic."ÃÂ (Green, pg 14) Druids as philosophers, theologians and scientists: "ÃÂ"ÃÂ¦the Druids, in addition o natural philosophy, study also moral philosophy. The Druids are considered the most righteous of men"ÃÂ¦' (Strabo, Geography IV, 4, 4) It was believed that the Druids were great philosophers. They too, like Plato, were in search of the truth. They were considered "masters of wisdom"ÃÂ as Pmponius Mela called them. In addition, perhaps the most interesting fact regarding their philosophy was their beliefs and teachings concerning the destiny of the soul and the nature of its future state. They believed that the soul was immortal and when you died, your soul is passed on to someone or something else. "They were believed to study things secret and sublime and tried to explain the high mysteries of nature."ÃÂ (Green, pg 50) Druids are also believed to have studied astrology and appeared to be confidential advisors to the chiefs and kings as to lucky and unlucky days. They would also instruct the warriors of the tribe regarding when to attack their enemy. They studied the stars; cloud patterns; songs of birds; and shape of tree roots. This may be how they could predict fog and rain. They were also associated with drawing up the Coligny calendar. "The astronomical observations of the Druids had one very practical purpose "ÃÂ that of mathematical calendrical calculations."ÃÂ (Green, pg 50) Druids as judges and lawyers: They were considered the most "just of all men"ÃÂ. Strabo tell us the following: "ÃÂThe Druids are considered the most just of men, and on this account they are entrusted with the decision, not only of private disputes, but of public disputes as well; so that, in former times, they even arbitrated cases of war and made the opponents stop when they were about to line up for battle, and the murder cases in particular were turned over to them for decision.' (Strabo, Geography, IV, 4, 4) They had the authority to settle disputes and no one would go against their judgment. In addition, it is also told that they were in charge of carrying out the sentence. This would include banning them from sacrifices, which to the Gauls was worst than death.
"ÃÂThe Druids are concerned with the worship of the gods, look after public and private sacrifice, and expound religious matters"ÃÂ¦.When a private person "ÃÂ¦disobeys their ruling they ban them from"ÃÂ¦sacrifices. This is their harshest penalty.' (Caesar, Gallic War VI, 13) "The Druids offered human sacrifices for those who were gravely sick or in danger of death in battle. Huge wickerwork images were filled with living men and then burned; although the Druids preferred to sacrifice criminals, they would choose innocent victims if necessary."ÃÂ ("Druid"ÃÂ Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Druids as Teachers/Educators Above all, Druids were known as the educators of the nobility. However, their teachings could not be written, but rather had to be learned by heart. "Oral teaching and learning by heart of mnemonic verses was again part of the ancient tradition of non-literate societies from Ireland, where the early laws were preserved "ÃÂby the joint memory of the ancients, the transmission from one ear to another, the chanting of the poets'. (Piggott, page 113). This may account for why Druids had to have training in their respective field for 20 years.
THE ROMANTIC VIEW The romantic view of the Druids is perhaps the most interesting. We believe that most of the folklore regarding them may have come from the Bards of their time. It is also believed that the classical writers could have exaggerated their powers.
The view of a Druid was one that could cast spells; had healing powers; could speak with the "otherworld"ÃÂ; practiced magic and witchcraft; were seers into the future; were prophets and oracles and had divine powers. "A combination of priest, prophet and astrologers, Druids were believed to posses mystical abilities, which were highly prized by kings, as well as spells, which were greatly feared by enemies."ÃÂ (Time Life Books, pg 27) They were thought to carry a magic wand that could turn people into animals and could affect the weather by ""ÃÂ¦causing snow storms, fog and even showers of blood and fire. They could erase a person's memory of any particular event by concocting a "drink of forgetfulness"ÃÂ, and they could deliver great victories on the battlefield by casting spells over entire opposing armies, by erecting a so-called druid's fence that protected their own men, and by creating a magic cloak that rendered a warrior invisible."ÃÂ (Time Life Books, pg 28) It is stated that the Druids did this by "standing on one leg, with an arm outstretched and one eye closed, mimicking the posture of a heron."ÃÂ (Time Life Books, pg 28) They used mistletoe as a healing agent and to aid in fertility. One story told is about the sacrifice of bulls. It is believed that the Druids climb oak trees and with a golden sickle cut down mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. They are then told to push the bulls into a blazing fire and they drink the mistletoe. This is believed to impart fertility to the tribe's cattle.
There are several famous stories about mystical Druids. There is the legendary Irish queen Medb of Connacht, Merlin, the Morrigan who appears to Cu Chulainn, the story of Deirdre and Conchobar "ÃÂ regarding the Druid Cathbadh and many more from the Tuatha De Danann, just to name a few.
CONCLUSION In conclusion, regardless whether the Druids could do magic or were just ordinary philosophers, they are recited in history as very unique people of their time. Druidism is still practiced today in many parts of the world. Druidism is considered a very peaceful religion. "Their teachings and principles are derived from ancient Druidism, founded on reason and sound morality."ÃÂ (Isaac Bonewit, United Ancient Order of Druids) References used J. Bonwick, Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, New York: Dorsett Press (1986) Miranda J. Green, The World of the Druids, New York: Thames and Hudson (1997) Time-Life Books, What Life Was Like Among Druids and High Kings, Virginia: Time Life Inc (1998) Stuart Piggott, The Druids, New York & Washington: Frederick A. Praeger (1968) "Bards, Ovates and Druids"ÃÂ, at: http://druidry.org "Druids, Introduction and Overview"ÃÂ, at: http://www.celt.net "Druid"ÃÂ Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, at: http://www.search.eb.com "Celtic Druidism"ÃÂ, at: http://www.neopagan.net